Wednesday 7 July 2010 Mere Lava

The day started early as we prepared to go ashore for a full day’s clinic.  All the medical and optical boxes were ashore from yesterday, but after taking into account the effort involved in simply climbing the mountain to the village we wanted to be prepared; to ensure we didn’t leave anything behind.

Three mud brick moulds and manuals were taken ashore, along with lunch, donated goods, additional medical stuff and much more.  Gibson and Bob called up on the VHF hand held radio (they’d stayed ashore overnight) to see if we could make it for an 8:30 start at the clinic, (rather than 9:00am) but it was already 7:45 and as Mike commented, it’s like getting the kids off to school.  Mike stayed aboard for the morning to mind the ship and waved us off around 8:30am.

The clinic finally starting around 9:15am after the strenuous climb up to the village.  Upon arrival we were greeted by Linda, the woman we evacuated last year requiring a caesarian delivery, plus her mother Rose and father Edmond.   It was hugs and kisses all around and more of the story of the past 12 months came to light as we passed on our sadness at hearing on the loss of Linda’s baby.

We learnt that Linda’s baby actually died at birth.  Linda told us that she’d had malaria and that this had somehow affected the new born baby.  Edmond, Linda’s father, later told us that around the same time Linda lost her baby, his sister (Linda’s auntie) had given birth to twins.  As a result, a very “island” solution was found to the dilemma.

Here was a mother who’d just lost a baby.  Here was another mother who had two.  They were closely related … lived in the same village and had grown up sharing pretty much everything – why not share a baby.  Seemed like a win-win situation.

The clinic went well and there was a steady stream of patients all morning.  One chap, probably in his 40s or 50s came assisted by his son to have his eyes tested.  He was seen by the medical team last year and at that time it was recommended he make his way down to Santo to have cataracts in both eyes removed.  The man could barely see.  After much discussion it was finally agreed that we would evacuate him (Martin) 35 miles north to Gaua in order that he might catch a plane to Santo where he could stay with his brother while recovering from the operation.  Martin’s son, who lives on an island further north, will be summoned and he will come to Gaua in the next few days to escort his dad down to Santo.  While waiting for the plane to arrive (next week sometime) Martin will stay with another brother who lives on Gaua.  It all gets a bit complicated, but from our perspective it comes down to a relatively short hop north to Gaua, providing a donation of around 10,000 Vatu (approx $120AUS) and ensuring he has assistance at each step – it pays to have an extended family!

Yesterday I mentioned that mud bricks would be on today’s program and, while black sand, rock, scoria and an organic layer of topsoil was universal, every now and then a patch of what looked like heavier sub-soil could be found.  Not quite clay, but well worth a go.  So it was that we dug up the slope at the edge of the village courtyard, come volleyball court, come meeting space, come pretty much only flat ground in the whole village.   It was a fine sight with a grand following as we dug and mixed together, then laid out the moulded bricks … all 40 of them, in rows.  There was much excitement about the bricks and I encouraged the women, to much amusement,  to make sure their man made them a Low Smoke Stove,  just like what was in the illustrated instruction manual.

Last year we were asked by the Anglican minister on the island, Father Alban, whether we could send him a stole, (kind of a long religious cotton scarf that extends to near the ground).   Well,  we went one better, with Yvonne Joyce from the North Ringwood Uniting Church making four stoles, each of different colours to match the Christian calendar and each with sewed on symbols representing Mere Lava and the Christian Church.  Now, as it turned out, Father Alban had been transferred to the islands of the Torres region further north and his replacement, Father Stanley was at another village.  So it was agreed that a presentation would be made to the church itself, to be used by each minister in turn as they come and go.  But always the stoles would remain in the church here at Mere Lava.  This was  a most acceptable solution and resulted in a big village square presentation which involved the local choir and string band performing two wonderful songs for us and then placing a floral necklace around our necks.  I gave a few words of explanation and thanks for the opportunity to come and share and for the wonderful welcome given to us.  In the absence of Father Stanley a group of church Elders came forward to accept the parcel containing the stoles and spontaneously each placed their hand on the back of the other and bowed their heads which seemed like the time requiring a prayer, to which I obliged.

It was a very simple yet moving ceremony, seemingly involving the whole community, or at least everyone within earshot of the village bell  – read, long gas cylinder hanging from a tree which make one serious bell-like sound when struck with a steel bar.
After the ceremony we showed the movie of our visit here last year on a laptop in one of the meeting huts, which was received to cheers and squeals of delight.
It was hoped that Matt might have been able to play some music with a few of the local guitar-playing lads, but it was not to be.  Although, with a backdrop of volcanic rock, black gravelly “beach” and towering jungle all around, Matt pulled the “ships violin” from its case, while waiting his turn to be transported out to Chimere in the dinghy, and played a range of violin pieces while a large gathering of children and adults sat in a circle around him.  It was truly a surreal moment which is difficult to fully convey in words.  Whether it was a Celtic Jig, a classical sonata or an Aussie folk song, hearing such a performance, in such a location was incongruous in the extreme.

As the day drew to a close we reflected on the brief time we had around mid-day when Linda, Rose and Edmond, accompanied by numerous other sons, daughters and grandchildren came out to the boat.  There was also the wonderful loaves of bread Gerhard made in the afternoon, (the first for this leg of the voyage) while Mike came off ships-watch to join the work ashore.  Then, to close the day, there was a steady stream of people out to the boat, with every kid in the village seemingly grabbing the opportunity to come aboard.  The Zodiac dinghy manual says something about the boat’s capacity to carry people.  It might say something like “5”, of maybe “6”, I don’t recall.  Here in Vanuatu, as you’d appreciate, things are a bit different.  It’s more a case of … while handholds exist, and bum-space can be found you just keep loading her up.  Admittedly, some of the kids were little, barely at school in the case of some, but on one trip I did a head count with each passenger numbering off from the left.  I got to 15, then realized it was 16 once you counted me.  I reckon all up we must have had 40-50 on the water at one point there.  It was a fun time.
At the moment it’s well past my bed time.  We had another lovely Gerhard meal a few hours back and tomorrow we head off north to Gaua to drop off Martin as mentioned earlier.  On the way we will pass the small island of Merig, a tiny wee dot on the chart where only about 20 people live.  With no safe landing spot or anchorages it’s understandable that they greet few visitors on the island and receive precious little medical attention.  The weather may be against us, but we’ll draw in close and see whether the conditions favour a landing.

Our current anchorage here at Mere Lava was officially rated by everyone as “good”, with very little movement but throughout today it has been downgraded “Fair” as the wind, sea and tides have conspired to set up a rolly action which has become awfully uncomfortable.
Thank you to everyone for your comments, encouragement and support.
Smooth seas, fair breeze and a rock and rolly night ahead.
Robert Latimer

PS  Earthquake watch … a few people have asked about the recent (and one of many) earthquakes over here.  Yes most people felt it, but that’s about all.  No damage or interference to our program.